As free-range gains more shelf space across the major retailers, Alex Black visited Cotteswold Dairies to find out why the processor made the switch into the new format and asks how it has bolstered the business
Dairy processor Cotteswold Dairies is hoping to repeat the same success with its free-range milk as it saw when organic milk entered onto the market.
The format has already opened doors for the dairy, with Asda now stocking its free-range milk, which comes from cows guaranteed outdoor grazing for 180 days and nights a year.
Chairman Roger Workman said: “If you look back to the late 1980s when organic milk started to take off, we were the first dairy to put it into glass. Delivered on an electric milk float, you were getting as organic as you could,” he said.
“With free-range, we are one of the first into it. The same thing is happening again where we have got a product some people are wanting and it is new.”
Free-range has come under fire, with some in the industry claiming it demonised standard milk and the organic sector stating it was already free-range.
But Roger’s son, managing director George Workman said the move had been ‘market led’.
“If Joe Public wants free-range milk, we will provide it,” he said.
“It is not about welfare, it is about public perception.”
The family business was started by Roger’s father Harry in 1938 when he began a milkround delivering 136 litres a day in Tewkesbury.
Roger has now semi-retired and handed the business down to his son, George. His daughters also work in the business and he hoped it would one day be passed on to his grandchildren.
Roger said the company had always tried to support its farmers.
“We have always tended to pay more than others but, for that, we must have good production.”
But this meant the business was hit very hard by the dairy crisis as it had a surplus of milk selling on the secondary market for ’less than half’ the price it had paid.
Rob Newton said he said he had chosen to supply Cotteswold Dairies with free-range milk as the system was very similar to the way he already farmed.
“We enjoy seeing cows out grazing. It is the way we like to farm,” he said.
“It gives us a chance to differentiate our milk and hopefully we will get a premium if that is what people are looking to buy. I think it is good consumers get given a clear choice. For us traditional farmers, it increases the viability of the business.”
He added he had chosen to supply the dairy because it was a ‘local dairy with local milk’.
“I like the fact it is a family business, like ours.”
“If I had been a ruthless businessman I would have dropped two or three farmers.”
Roger said his Christian ethics meant the business ‘stood the hit’ and supported its farmers instead.
With dairy being a sector dominated by large players, it has been crucial for the business to differentiate itself. Harry Workman’s motto had been ‘quality, service and cleanliness’ and these values were still at the heart of the business.
The dairy still has a core traditional customer base which wanted milk in glass bottles and doorstep deliveries and Roger said this had been boosted by people having their shopping delivered.
“Because we keep up quality and standards means we might never be the cheapest, as long as we can be the best. You can only sell rubbish once,” Roger added.
Going forward, George’s main concern over Brexit was the availability of labour. The dairy employs many Eastern European workers alongside local labour, with low unemployment in the area.
“They are very hard working and very committed so we do not want to see that resource taken away,” he said.
“It will affect our business but everyone in the sector will be affected so it will be a fairly even playing field.”
But he added he was certain there would also be opportunities too.